12 Feb, 2019

A Blue Green Algae toxin linked to Motor Neurone Disease is found in Australian water.

A news story on Sunday night’s Channel 10 news program The Sunday Project (and the resulting article) has reported that a toxin (BMAA), thought to be linked with Motor Neurone Disease (MND), has been found in a number of lakes and rivers around Australia.

International research has found a possible link between the neurotoxin BMAA (which is a by-product of cyanobacteria) to MND, however it is only recently that the BMAA toxin has been measured in Australian water bodies.

“Motor neurone disease is a progressive, fatal neurodegenerative disease with the death of brain cells which control muscle movements, eventually causing paralysis.”

The Sunday Project story focused on a number of people who have been diagnosed with MND and who live near Lake Wyangan; a lake located on the outskirts of Griffith in New South Wales, Australia. This lake has historically been used for recreational purposes such as swimming, however it was reported that it also has been used as a drinking water source in times of drought.

Alarmingly, it was reported that

“in Griffith, the rate of MND is seven times the national average”.

A Neurology Professor from the Centre for MND Research at Macquarie University, Professor Dominic Rowe, told The Sunday Project that “there has been an astounding 250 % increase in MND as a cause of death in Australia in the past 30 years”. He went on to say that the cause for the disease “can only be environmental, it can’t be genetic”.

The article written by the journalist reporting for The Sunday Project stated that the prevalence of the BMAA toxin is not confined to Lake Wyangan, as it has also been found in numerous other drought-affected NSW waterways, like the Darling River where massive fish kills have recently made headlines and in Lake Cargelligo which is 140km north of Griffith.

Blue green algae (cyanobacteria) will thrive in water containing nitrogen and phosphorus as a food source. Cyanobacteria can utalise nitrogen from the atmosphere as well as from nutrients in the water body; however the most common pathway for phosphorus to enter a water body is though the overuse of fertilisers, industrial pollution and sewerage runoff. Once phosphorus enters the water body, it remains in the water column or is stored in the sediment for future use by algal cells. The only way to break the historical nutrient pollution of water bodies is to remove or bind the phosphate, rendering it unavailable for algal cells to feed on.

Phoslock is an Australian product owned by Phoslock Environmental Technologies (PET). It is used to bind excess dissolved phosphorus in water bodies that, if left untreated, leads to algal blooms that can be toxic to humans and animals that come into contact with the water. Phoslock is used by water body managers as a tool to improve water quality by controlling nuisance algal blooms.

An article from the report seen on “The Sunday Project” can be found at  https://tendaily.com.au/news/australia/a190209owx/the-aussie-town-where-motor-neurone-disease-is-7-times-the-national-average-20190209